Bitcoin and Freedom in Costa Rica — Interview
A young college dropout teaches me about Bitcoin and economic freedom in a sleepy seaside town in the tropics
“Bitcoin will grow in Costa Rica and in the world because it is the necessary tool to escape the economic laws they’ve inculcated us with that generate poverty.”
I’m not going to say I was drunk. But let’s just say I was feeling chatty when I met Luis Alejandro Rodriguez-Sanchez in the checkout aisle of the Megasuper in a small town in Southern Costa Rica. It was the large Bitcoin sticker on the back of his phone that caught my attention. I’d been curious about Bitcoin adoption in this small Latin American country, and most especially in this small, remote and poor coastal town near the border with Panama.
I asked the young Costa Rican man in Spanish if he invests in Bitcoin. He said yes and gave me a knowing smile. I replied with an even more broad smile because I was almost drunk, which he seemed to appreciate because he laughed, gave me a dap and we started to chat.
I was immediately fascinated with this young man because he represented an answer to a question I’d been asking myself for quite a while. The question is this: “Now that the internet allows us to invent and participate in the future from anywhere, are people in these remote towns in developing nations getting involved?” This wasn’t just an idle question, but one that had been marinating in me for years. I used to live in this town — for three years in my twenties I lived here, and coming here was like going back in time. While Americans were all using high speed internet and beginning to live our lives on social networks, this town was still using dialup internet, which is another way of saying, they basically didn’t have the internet. I still come back after all these years, but now I have 100mbps (super-fast) fiber optic that is installed to my waterside house on a dirt street.
When I lived here ten years ago there was an uncrossable chasm separating our cultures. Now that internet speed and penetration has nearly caught up, are they living the same kind of virtual lives we are, just in sleepy seaside tropical towns?
Back in the supermarket, as the supermarket employee was scanning my groceries, I asked Alejandro if many people here in Costa Rica know about Bitcoin. He said not many, and by way of example caught the attention of the cashier and asked him if he knew what Bitcoin was, to which the bored employee gave a sort of indifferent grunt implying dunno what the hell you just said, and to which Alejandro shrugged and said to me - see?
Alejandro, Alejandro. I felt I had found a crucial puzzle piece in my personal understanding of the opportunities provided by the internet and cryptocurrencies to young people in developing nations. Below is an interview we did at a cafe two weeks later about fifty feet away from the Megasuper where we met. I asked to interview him because I wanted to hear about the experience of a Bitcoiner in a small, non-affluent and highly inflationary country. And more broadly, I wanted to know how his access to the internet is working to close the opportunity and ideas gap between our two cultures.
I came to learn that Alejandro trades Forex, Bitcoin, Crypto, and even was part of a community to popularize the use of a local Costa Rican crypto called CR Coin.
I gave the interview in Spanish and translated it to English. Some of the answers are condensed for clarity and brevity.
“We need to escape the dollar faster than the United States does.”
So you make money online, full time, right? What sorts of stuff do you do?
Tons of stuff. I mostly trade Forex, but I’ve traded and hold Bitcoin. I’ve traded CR Coin since that started. I’ve even just sold random things online for friends, or helped people rent out their apartments.
So how did you get into Bitcoin / Crypto?
Back in 2014 when I was maybe 16 years old I started trading Forex. One day I was looking through a feed on MetaTrader of things to buy and I saw a graphic of Bitcoin, but I didn’t know what it was for or what it did. I definitely didn’t know how big it was going to be.
What’s the next thing you did to investigate it?
Well, when I first saw that graphic, Bitcoin was trading at around $200. A few years later when it climbed to $20,000, everyone was talking about this new money. I thought about how I could have bought some at $200, and with it climbing to $20,000, it doesn’t matter how much I invested, I would have gotten a huge return.
So the next thing I did was search YouTube for “what is Bitcoin and how does it work?” I just started watching whatever random videos came up.
What interests you about it?
Look, I’ve always thought that our money, the Colon, has deteriorated. So just the idea of a money that grows in value instead of deteriorating really got my attention. I remember growing up here and my Mom would give me 20,000 colones to go to the super market and it bought a ton of food. By the time I heard about Bitcoin, I could see how much less it was already getting me.
I started to research how the national economy worked. I came away from that convinced by how important Bitcoin is for economic freedom for me and my family and friends.
Have you always had skill with computers? Did you learn it at University?
I went to university for about a year and then had to drop out. My family was on a bad streak economically and couldn’t afford internet, much less a laptop. I was traveling 90 minutes each way on the bus to the border and there was just no way for me to keep up with the course work without a computer and internet.
Do you think this helped or hurt your career?
In the end it wasn’t bad. I was able to survive by cunning. And it brought me on an interesting path, so that’s good.
What do your parents think about Bitcoin?
My Dad is a fishing boat captain and doesn’t understand or care about financial markets. But my Mom gets it and holds Bitcoin and crypto. The difference is really that she likes technology and he doesn’t.
What do your friend here in Golfito do for work?
Some unload trucks down by the free trade market. Some are waiters and cooks. There’s not much work around here.
Do you guys talk about Bitcoin?
Yes, they regularly ask me questions and clear up doubts about the market. I would say more than half of my friends are actively interested, but the problem is far fewer have capital to invest. Most don’t even have a savings account. And a few lack the capacity to understand it, but not many.
Do you see Bitcoin / Crypto growing in Costa Rica?
Bitcoin will grow in Costa Rica and in the world in general because it is the necessary tool to escape the economic laws they’ve inculcated us with that generate poverty. When a dominant country like the US prints a bunch of money, the first to be affected are the poorer countries that can’t handle the inflation. We need to escape the dollar faster than the United States does.
You need to escape the dollar faster than we do?
Yes, and Bitcoin and blockchain are opportunities to escape this economic chaos
At this point our Costa Rican waitress with a cute little chest tattoo brought my tacos and his mashed potatoes and vegetables. Yes, this kid is a vegetarian. Times sure do change. Back when I lived here I was a vegetarian too, and people used to squint at me like I was an alien when I told them. Then, with an air of accommodation, they’d offer me chicken. It doesn’t seem so weird now.
Back to the interview..
“The laws of Bitcoin dictate that no one can be excluded”
Do you see any kind of link between Bitcoin and Politics?
Yes, Bitcoin is essentially a political movement because politicians want to create laws, but Bitcoin has its own laws. The laws of Bitcoin dictate that no one can be excluded. They allow anyone to invest and be part of the economy and the community. So Bitcoin as a community interferes with the laws, and laws interfere with the community.
Do politicians in Costa Rica talk about Bitcoin?
A few politicians see it as feasible. But it’s not a theme that politicians talk about. It’s not considered an issue of national importance. The people on the street aren’t talking about Bitcoin. If it were an important theme, they would talk about it.
Are you aware of what happened in El Salvador? Do you think that could ever happen here?
Yes, I think it could happen here, but I would like to see Costa Rica actually have its own currency. They could legalize Bitcoin as money, but we could also have our own. If we had our own, I think it would generate a lot more economic benefit to the country.
How has Bitcoin / Crypto changed your life?
It has allowed me to understand more about freedom. Much more. It was the first thing that allowed me to understand how manipulated and controlled the actual financial system is. Once I understood Bitcoin and Crypto, I could see it like a panorama, and allowed me to see that we actually have a different option.
Do you feel like you have a point of view on how Bitcoin and Crypto are being received in Latin America in general?
Yes, based on what I see on the internet the subject is growing in popularity a lot in Latin America, especially in Argentina and Mexico. Mexico is the economic epicenter of Latin America, so if something grows in the region, it usually starts in Mexico. I’ve seen it in Forex, I’ve seen it in Marketing networks, I’ve seen it with streamers and YouTubers. That’s the trend — it starts in Mexico, most often in DF, and then spreads to the rest of Latin America.
Do you have any final thoughts?
I’ve grown up watching my family and friends suffer from a deteriorating economy, and I’ve been personally affected by it. This is what gave me the impulse to find economic freedom and to look for a way to bring freedom to other people.
Being in a small country makes it easier to see the whole economic situation up close, and how it affects the people. I feel like crypto and blockchain for everything — elections, medicine, education, economics, has to be implemented for the benefit of the community and society. The society of the future will have more blockchains ensuring everything is fair and equitable for everyone.
What you said there at the end makes me reflect on how many people accuse Bitcoin of being a speculative instrument for the rich. But what you’re saying is the opposite. It helps those with fewer opportunities, or who live under dysfunctional governments more than it helps the wealthy in other countries. I don’t feel like I really understood that before.
Yes, that’s right.
My experience with Alejandro confirmed exactly what I had suspected: Bitcoin promotes an understanding of freedom that conceptually breaks people out of their country’s economic system and allows them to imagine it as more free, just, inclusive and transparent.
My long term prediction is that this mentality, which is growing in the minds of tens of millions of people actively engaged with Bitcoin and crypto around the globe, will be the basis for our governments of the future. Transparency, accountability, and fairness won’t just be buzzwords, but real goals that can be set and enforced democratically by code.
This is still a long way off. But when a new technology allows a young college drop-out in a small fishing town to make money and learn about economic freedom for himself and others, we’re on the right path.
Thank you for reading.
You can follow Alejandro on Instagram
Matt Harder runs the civic engagement firm Civic Trust, where he guides cities in re-building their civic infrastructure by helping residents, civic organizations, and local government co-create public projects. He is also a passionate Bitcoiner. Follow him on Twitter.